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Social Development and Poverty

Despite the extraordinary gains made in living standards, hundreds of millions are still excluded from the benefits of rapid economic growth. ADB envisions an Asia and Pacific that is inclusive, where the region's gains and opportunities are shared by all.

Contribution to Operational Priorities

To address operational priorities, ADB offers integrated solutions combining expertise across a range of sectors and themes. These solutions will be delivered through an appropriate mix of public and private sector operations that are best suited to the specific needs on the ground.

The following are social development and poverty reduction's contributions to ADB's operational priorities.

Addressing remaining poverty and reducing inequalities

  • Improve the poverty focus of ADB operations through more robust poverty and social analysis
  • Promote programs that address multidimensional poverty and specific issues such as demographic transition, disability inclusion, resilience to climate change and natural disasters, and economic migration
  • Facilitate quality jobs creation
  • Strengthen social protection systems across the region

Accelerating progress in gender equality

  • Generate evidence of and highlight gender-based inequalities across the life ADB operations.
  • Support decent and productive work for women through gender assessment of the future of work and employment, social protection initiatives, and inclusive business.
  • Address gender dimensions of aging, the care economy, and human resources in work on aging and elderly care.
  • Empower women in community-level decision making, and build women’s and girls’ climate and disaster resilience through community-driven development.
  • Coordinate on the methodological integration of poverty and social analysis and gender analysis during project due diligence and training staff and developing member country counterparts.
  • Strengthen gender elements in social safeguards and core labor standards.

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Making cities more livable

  • Address social dimensions of urbanization and critical issues of affordability, access, equity, and jobs.
  • Promote age-friendly planning, design, and disability inclusion through universal design.
  • Promote affordability of basic services and access by the urban poor.

Promoting rural development and food security

  • Address the social dimensions of rural development.
  • Strengthen rural livelihoods through inclusive business and cash-for-work or food-for-work programs.
  • Promote food security through social assistance programs, which enable the rural poor to smooth consumption during slack agriculture seasons when prices are volatile and there is less demand for labor.

Strengthening governance and institutional capacity

  • Promote inclusive development at the grassroots level; empower the marginalized sectors in society to contribute to the development agenda.
  • Analyze the governance dimension of social protection and development, social assistance and insurance, and labor market programs.
  • Strengthen institutional capacity to plan, design, implement, and monitor social protection programs and projects.
  • Monitor expenditures on social protection; ensure the allocated funds are spent on right priorities.
  • Strengthen governance elements in social safeguards and core labor standards.

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Fostering regional cooperation and integration

Explore regional cooperation mechanisms and regional knowledge sharing for the integration of social risk and social development in areas such as promoting inclusive business and social protection initiatives, and regional dimensions of the “care economy.”


Participation and Empowerment in ADB Projects

Participation in ADB-assisted operations refers to the processes through which stakeholders understand, influence, and contribute to the decisions, resource allocations, and activities that affect their lives. Participation, rather than being a goal in itself, helps achieve improved development results.

Participation supports good governance, citizenship, and accountability of the state. It promotes social inclusion of disadvantaged groups and equitable economic growth.

ADB works with governments as primary counterparts, but also with private sector clients, and all are obliged to ensure other stakeholders are involved in the processes which affect their lives. In fragile and conflict-affected states, issues relating to government capacity or the effects of conflict often demand heightened attention to the participation of intended beneficiaries in determining development priorities.

ADB also provides guidance on organizing consultations with representatives of civil society and with poor, marginalized, and isolated groups to ensure that their concerns are reflected in the formulation, monitoring, and evaluation of ADB’s country partnership strategies.

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ADB and Social Protection

Developing and expanding social protection for the poor benefits all of society by fostering inclusive economic growth, reducing inequality, and improving security and political stability. Well-designed and cost-effective social protection programs also boost human capital, and thus, regional competitiveness in a globalized world. Without social protection, vulnerable families can suffer lost educational opportunities, reduced health care, and lack of employment – damage that can spill over to future generations.

Social protection from crises

Social protection systems not only protect people during times of economic crisis, but represent an investment in future growth. The global economic and financial crisis of 2008 exposed the magnitude of human and development costs associated with inadequate social protection policies and programs.

During the financial crisis, ADB provided assistance to many developing countries. Bangladesh received $645 million to help expand social safety net programs to cover millions who were hurt by the crisis such as households dependent on remittances, laid off factory workers, women forced into low-paying and insecure jobs, and young people joining the labor market at a time of shrinking job opportunities.

In 2009, ADB approved loans for social protection measures in Mongolia, the Philippines, the Peoples' Republic of China and Viet Nam worth more than $1.1 billion. Between 1996 and 2008, ADB provided 20 full social protection loans and 90 loans with social protection components, plus technical assistance projects totaling $66.43 million.

ADB's Social Protection Operational Plan 2014−2020

The Social Protection Operational Plan (SPOP) 2014–2020  provides strategic directions for ADB's support to its developing members to strengthen social protection systems. It proposes five priority areas for action between 2014 and 2020:

  • continued development of ADB-financed social protection projects
  • active identification of opportunities to integrate social protection into projects, particularly in the education, finance, health, and public management sectors
  • support to capacity building and policy, and knowledge sharing
  • cultivation of partnerships and South–South cooperation
  • monitoring and reporting on social protection programs and trends in Asia and the Pacific

ADB’s Social Protection Strategy

ADB’s Social Protection Strategy spells out the scope of ADB's commitment to develop priority interventions in supporting social assistance and welfare service programs. The policies and programs of ADB’s Social Protection Strategy aim to help people in the region break the cycle of poverty, enhance growth through investment in human capital, increase productivity, and reduce their vulnerability to risk. Three major elements comprise ADB’s social protection strategy:

  • Labor market policies and programs designed to promote employment, the efficient operation of labor markets, and worker protection.
  • Social insurance programs to cushion the risks associated with unemployment, catastrophic out-of-pocket health costs, disability, work injury, and the growing ranks of the elderly.
  • Social assistance and welfare service programs for the most vulnerable with no means of support, including single mothers, the homeless, or physically or mentally challenged people.

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Inclusive Business

Asia's private sector is increasingly realizing that the base of the income pyramid, i.e. those living below the $3-$4 poverty line, represents a substantial new market for goods and services, which in turn can improve the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable. This segment of the population also doubles as a significant pool of entrepreneurship, assets, talent, and productivity that can be leveraged for the supply of critical inputs, innovative distribution systems, and skilled labor.

What is inclusive business?

ADB defines Inclusive Business (IB) as a business entity that generates high development impact by (i) improving access to goods and services for the base-of-the-pyramid population (i.e., low-income people); and/or (ii) providing income and/or employment opportunities to low-income people as producers, suppliers, distributors, employers, and/or employees. An inclusive business must be commercially viable, it must meet nonsovereign operation standards of viability. (Source: Standard Explanatory Data Indicator Definitions May 2019)

ADB's inclusive business initiative

ADB has embarked on an inclusive business initiative that supports inclusive business in Asia and the Pacific through technical assistance projects:

  • Promoting Inclusive Growth through Business Development at the Base of the Pyramid
    This technical assistance aimed to develop inclusive business ventures in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Viet Nam. It also did preparatory work for setting up two sub-regional equity and debt funds for Inclusive Business in Southeast Asia and in South Asia.
  • Inclusive Business Support
    This project was designed to facilitate the financing of inclusive business projects supported by ADB, and promote policy work with selected governments as well as knowledge exchange on inclusive business.

Since ADB started its inclusive business initiative, the number of its investments in inclusive companies increased. In 2013, 5 out of the 16 approved private sector projects qualify as inclusive business, up from 4% between 2000 and 2012.

Further reading

Social Enterprises

Social enterprises are self-sustaining businesses that address social or environmental concerns, and provide jobs, goods, and services to the disadvantaged.

ADB recognizes the important contributions that social enterprises can make to inclusive economic and social development. However, promising social enterprises may fail to grow because of the need for more capital.

The ADB-supported project, Developing a Regional Social Investment Exchange Initiative, is studying the feasibility of a pilot regional social stock exchange, a mechanism to raise funds for social enterprises.

Microfinance initiatives are a form of social enterprise. Learn more about ADB's work on microfinance.

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